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Two Books from Haruki Murakami 117

Posted by timothy
from the gotta-check-this-out dept.
David Mazzotta writes: "The jacket copy of these novels declares the writer, Haruki Murakami, to be 'a Japanese Philip K. Dick with a sense of humor.' That's pretty accurate. But while Murakami shares Dick's inventive imagination and plots that containing fantastic, near-mystical overtones, these novels are populated with deeper, more identifiable characters." If that's an intriguing idea for you, read on for the rest of David's review.
A Wild Sheep Chase and Dance, Dance, Dance
author Haruki Muarkami
pages 304 / 393
publisher Vintage Books
rating 8.5
reviewer David Mazzotta
ISBN 037571894X / 0679753976
summary The real and surreal clash in post-modern Japan.

In A Wild Sheep Chase (1989) the main character and narrator lives a mediocre existence. He is passionless; seemingly unaffected by his wife's betrayal and subsequent divorce, and only attracted to his current girlfriend because he finds her ears to be "marvels of creation" that can incite irresistible desire in any man who sees them. This shallow view of life is further emphasized by the fact that, throughout the book, no characters are referred to by proper names.

When the "Rat," a nomadic friend of the narrator, sends him a photograph of some sheep from Hokkaido, a chain of events is set in motion. The sheep picture comes to the attention of a shadowy figure simply known as the "Boss" -- a mythically powerful underworld kingpin -- who has a dire need to get a hold of one of the sheep in the photo. The Boss sends a messenger to the narrator making it clear that unless he finds that sheep, he will face financial ruin, if not worse.

What follows is a surreal journey from Tokyo to Sapporo and points north, including a hotel that could be right out of a Kubrick film and creature known as the Sheep-Man, who is worthy of David Lynch. In the course of this journey, and in the face of extraordinary events, our narrator confronts his superficial world view and the affect it has had on his life.

Set six years later, Dance, Dance, Dance (1994) is murder mystery, but one in which the clues are revealed by chance rather than dogged investigation - often by a seemingly random psychic encounter. Our narrator has resumed a normal life as a freelance copywriter. He refers to this as "shoveling cultural snow" -- doing the thoughtless and thankless work that needs to be done to clear the path. He is fairly well disengaged from humanity, spending a lot of time alone doing absolutely nothing. Yet, in the midst of this anti-social life, he finds that his long missing girlfriend, the one with the amazing ears -- is calling to him as if in a dream, and she is weeping.

Once again, a chain of events is set in motion. He travels back to the strange hotel to find it modernized and corporate. He has another encounter with the Sheep-Man who tells him to "keep dancing." In the course of story he encounters, and finds sympathy for, a disaffected adolescent girl from a dysfunctional family, and an old high-school acquaintance who has become a famous movie star. Through his relationship with these characters he solves the mystery of his missing girlfriend, not through directed investigation but just by staying engaged with life and society -- by keeping up the "dance."

As a Westerner reading these novels, I was struck by how different the Japan portrayed here is from the hyper-efficient, sanitized, sexless and safe Japan of common impression. This is late twentieth-century post-modern Japan. References to Western pop culture are incessant. Call girls abound. Characters find themselves entangled in confusing, neurotic relationships worthy of HBO original programming. And nobody is practicing Kendo.

These books are hard-boiled -- that is to say, they are written in the hard-boiled style defined in the mid-twentieth century by U.S. mystery writers Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammet. There is a stark contrast between the blunt, gritty realism of hard-boiled style and the surreal, supernatural events that occur. This causes the stories to seem solidly planted in the real world, despite the occasional bizarre episodes.

There are certain shortcomings; the camera's eye perspective of the hard-boiled school lends itself to a bit too much dwelling on the details of setting. This is primarily in evidence at the beginning of A Wild Sheep Chase. And one suspects something is lost in the translation from the original Japanese. For example, this passage from Dance, Dance, Dance:

"... and if you consider the telephone as an object, it has this truly weird form. Ordinarily, you never notice it, but if you stare at it long enough, the sheer oddity of its form hits home. The phone either looks like it's dying to say something, or else it's resenting that it's trapped inside its form. Pure idea vested with a clunky body. That's the telephone."

There is a certain vagueness that may not be intentional. One is left with the feeling that "form" doesn't quite convey the same meaning it did in the original language.

Reading Murakami has been described feeling like you've just awakened from a deep sleep and you aren't sure if you're still dreaming. These are fascinating, engrossing books that will leave you full of ideas and impressions to dwell on for a long time to come.


You can purchase A Wild Sheep Chase and Dance,Dance,Dance from bn.com. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.

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Two Books from Haruki Murakami

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    is The Wind Up Bird Chronicle, to me, its kind of Murakami's best integration of all of the themes he brings up in his other books (esp. ddd & hard-boiled wonderland), and it is absolutely wonderful.

    • I'd agree. Wind Up Bird Chronicles is my favorite book, tied with David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest.

      About a year ago, a friend recommendeded it to me, the first time I'd encountered Murakami other than having eyed Norwegian Wood because of it's cover design.

      The first thing I noticed about Murakami was his pacing. It's a little on the slow side, but feels just right. The characters are honest and seem very real, especially his ubiquitous disaffected male leads. The story got weirder and weirder, but as the reviewer says, his hard-boiled style makes it all seem plausible, somehow.

      After I finished it, I read 6 more of his books all in the next 8 months, and a couple of those twice.

      The only one I found disappointing was Sputnik Sweetheart, it felt like a weaker Norwegian Wood or South of the Boarder, West of the Sun (both of which I read twice.)

      As for the Philp K. Dick angle....

      if you like the structural weirdness that Dick frequently employes, his habit for changing EVERYTHING you know to be true half way through a story, or the way the aforementioned make you think about stories in general, I *highly* recommend Italo Calvino and Jorges Luis-Borges.

      Specifically: The Collected Short Fiction of Jorges Luis-Borges, and "If on a winter's night a stranger" by Calvino.

      • Funny to read reviews of Murakami on /.; no-one I know has heard of him. Loved "Wind-up Bird Chronicle" and my GF JUST finished "Hard Boiled Wonderland...." and was nonplussed by it,liking the WBC much better. His books remind me a bit of the movies of Shohei Imamura such as "the Eel" - strangeness ensconced in banality.
        The previous post mentioned Borges and Calvino, both fathers of speculative fiction. Just to clarify - Calvino's most popular work is titled in english "If on a Winter's Night a Traveler" and is well worth reading, deconstructing the novel while you read it.
    • I haven't read these two, but I would recommend "the Wind-up Bird Chronicles," "Norwegian Wood," and "Hard-Boiled Wonderland..." (as it would seem many others do). I haven't checked out any of his others (and have not yet read the new English translation of "Norwegian Wood"), but all of these strike me as great books (though "HBW..." was more difficult than the others to get through, it was certainly rewarding). I read both "WUBC" and "NW" while visiting a friend in San Francisco a couple of years ago (she had the older translation of "NW" and after reading that, I ran across "WUBC" in a 50%-off bookstore in Berkeley. They were both so good that I read them each in a bit over a day. Strangely, I also picked up a Kurt Vonnegut novel ("TimeQuake", I think) at the same bookstore and read it immediately following "WUBC" (all before heading home - what a weird vacation, since I read 4 or 5 books during those 10 days). I remember thinking that they all seemed to fit together, though it was probably just my mood (getting to the end of a long visit and ready to long journey home), and I would not really consider that to be one of the essential KV stories. PKD. Somehow I have managed to only read "Do Androids Dream..." and that was so long ago that I don't even remember what I thought of it. Must go back and explore him a bit.
  • Sometimes the translation is as much art as the writing itself.

    My wife and I get a kick out of the horrid Japanese->English butchering that passes for subtitling these days.
    • by Chundra (189402)
      Jay Rubin translates most of his books. I think Alfred Birnbaum did a few. Rubin does a better job in my opinion.
      • It is also important to notice that Murakami is the translator in japanese for important english masterpieces like "The great gatsby".
        I also remember hearing an interview he gave in english.
        To sum it up, I guess Murakami himself plays a big role in the english translations of his books.
    • Who indeed. I have read several of Murakami's books in Japanese, and happened to pick up a translation of Norwegian Wood by (I think) Alfred Birnbaum published by Kodansha, and was horrified! It was like a completely different book. The entire tone and feeling were different. The translation was brash and vulgar, where the original was dark and subtle. I have seen some more recent translations by (I think) Jay Rubin, and those were much better. My advice: Stay away from the Birnbaum translations.
  • I discovered Murakami through A Wild Sheep Chase last November. Within three months I'd read every book that had been translated to English.

    I'm not a science fiction fan, but his books are just barely science fiction. They usually leave me feeling depressed (like the stereotypical main characters of his books... always a depressed, solitary male) but they're amazingly well written.

    Sheep Chase is great for a quick introduction, but once you've read that, I highly reccomend reading The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. It's 600 dense pages, so chunk out some time, but it's absolutely worth it.
    • Here's one of my favorite passages from A Wild Sheep Chase, FWIW... I just remembered I had this all typed up already, so I thought I'd share...

      ---

      Traffic was jammed solid in the direction on Shinjuku. Evening rush hour, among other things. Past a certain point the cars seemed practically glued in place, motionless. Every so often a wave would pass through the cars, budging them forward a few inches. I thought about the rotational speed of the earth. How many miles an hour was this road surface whirling through space? I did a quick calculation in my head and came up with a figure that could have been no faster than the Spinning Teacup at a carnival. There're many things we don't really know. It's an illusion that we know anything at all. If a group of aliens were to stop me and ask, Say, bud, how many miles an hour does the earth spin at the equator? I'd be in a fix. Hell, I don't even know why Wednesday follows Tuesday. I'd be an inergalactic joke.

      I've read And Quiet Flows the Don and The Brothers Karamazov three times through. I've even read Ideologie Germanica once. I can even recite the value of pi to sixteen places. Would I still be a joke? Probably. They'd laugh their alien heads off.

      Would you care to listen to some music, sir? asked the chauffeur.

      Good idea, I said.

      And at that a Chopin ballade filled the car. I got the feeling I was in a dressing room at a wedding reception.

      Say, I asked the chauffeur, you know the value of pi?

      You mean that 3.14 whatzit?

      That's the one. How many decimal places do you know?

      I know it to thirty-two places, the driver tossed out.
      Beyond that, well...

      Thirty-two places?

      There's a trick to it, but yes. Why do you ask?

      Oh, nothing really, I said, crestfallen. Never mind.

    • After A Wild Sheep Chase was required summer reading for me (over 9 years ago - this review is a little late) I also became a big Murakami fan, and went on a reading kick of his books. And I experienced the exact same effect - I got depressed. Good writing and excellent translations, but they made me feel lousy.

      This is true of so many excellent books (and music, and films, etc.) but still many love them. I'm sure there's a lesson to be learned here, but I'm not quite sure what it is.

  • Murakami is superb.

    "The Elephant Vanishes", available in English as a Vintage International paperback, is a collection of short stories into which you can immediately jump.

    [Warning: Plot description but no spoiler included.]
    My favorite story from the collection is "The 100% Perfect Girl," in which he passes (you guessed it) the 100% perfect girl on the street and, only after losing her, figures out exactly what he would have stopped and told her. This substory comprises the bulk this short short story and describes the story of two young lovers and their 100% perfect love potentially being lost to foolishness.

    Murakami is best known for

    • Norweigan Wood
    . From the Amazon.com description: "In 1987, when Norwegian Wood was first published in Japan, it promptly sold more than 4 million copies and transformed Haruki Murakami into a pop-culture icon. The horrified author fled his native land for Europe and the United States, returning only in 1995, by which time the celebrity spotlight had found some fresher targets." I have not read it so I will not comment (nor karma-whore, as it were) further.
    • Well, I've pretty much read everything PhilDick has written, so maybe I'll give this guy a shot. Two of my favorite things rolled into one. Hard to believe.

      By the way, I didn't think Minority Report was PhilDickian at all. Another evisceration job by Hollywood.
      • I've been a Phil Dick fan for years, ever since I read A Scanner Darkly. There are definitely resemblances in Murakami - a feeling of dissociation from the world, a sense that you can peel back it's surface and find something totally different. Murakami is, I think, a more subtle writer, and his characterizations are stronger than Dick's (although character wasn't the focus of Dick's work in the way that it is in Murakami). If I have to compare his writing to another writer's, I usually think of Raymond Carver (whose writing he's translated into Japanese). But it is probably safe to say that if you enjoy Phil Dick, you'll like Haruki Murakami.

        I was surprised - I didn't hate Minority Report. I thought it was a credible job, and Tom Cruise only annoyed me for the first half hour. I haven't read the story that the movie was based on, but I got the sense that Spielberg didn't capture the kind of perspective shifting that Dick did so well. As a movie, I enjoyed it, but I'm still waiting for someone to bring Phil Dick to the screen properly.

        • I'm about halfway through A Wild Sheep Chase and I must say it is quite readable and just surrealistic enough to make it interesting. It really isn't very phildickian though. Dick may not be standard science fiction, but he does at least cast a glance in that direction. Murakami's strangeness is more on the level of Salvadore Dali. I haven't finished it yet though. Maybe some aliens will appear in the second half. There was one offhand reference to the sheep being of a breed not found on Earth....
    • when norweigan wood was first published in japan it came in two volumes: one red, the other green. legend (perhaps even fact) has the novel was so popular amongst the university crowd that fans of the book would dress entirely in the colour of the volume they most identified with. street battles are even said to have been waged between the factions.

      that may sound a bit far fetched... but don't forget that mishima's literary club, the "shield society", followed him in his attempt to overthrow the government by force of arms.
      • I actually have a copy of Norweigan Wood in translation in the japanese format (2 small books, red and green).

        They're published by Harvill [randomhouse.co.uk]

        The binding on this edition is a bit dodgy, so if you do find them, handle them gingerly.
  • I've always been told that Dick's defining characteristic is a bitterness along with "European" sad endings. How does this guy rate on that? I admit, I skipped the review because I hate spoilers and such.

    Even better, how does this guy rate against Heinlein and Asimov?

    BlackGriffen
    • how does this guy rate against Heinlein and Asimov?

      His literary skills surpass both - although this is the first time I've come across him being compared to SF! He inhabits the strange end of literature - the only Western authors I would compare him too would be Will Self or Alisdair Gray.

      He's far less formulaic than than most SF writers (although Dick, Heinlein & Asimov all have fine work to their name), the closest parallel would I can think of is JG Ballard.

      Warmly recommended
    • If you like Heinlein, don't bother.
    • I skipped the review because I hate spoilers and such.

      So you're asking for an opinion backed up without facts? You've come to the right place!
  • Ill definitely be checking this author out - P.K. Dick is my favorite author. For those who don't know, Philip wrote the stories upon which "Blade Runner", "Total Recall" and "Minority Report" were based. And those are his weakest works in my opinion.
    • Total Recall was written by our own linux lovin' author Piers Anthony.

      www.piers-anthony.com/totalrecall.html

      This off topic post was brought to you by me.
  • Murakami best novels (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Lomby (147071)
    Murakami usually deals with normal life stories, science fiction, or simply fiction is not his area of expertise.
    His masterpiece is Norwegian Woods, which tells the story of a young man, in the mid of the japanese 68. We can say that there are a lot of biographical points in the book: the music, the environment, probabily the personal experiences.

    I can tell you, Norwegian Woods is one exceptional, emotional book. It's not science fiction, but still, one of the best books I've ever read.

    Murakami has also witnessed two of the recent tragedies of modern Japan: the sarin gas attack in the subway and the Kobe earthquake.

    In the book (Underground) about the sarin (nerve) gas attack from a religious sect, Murakami acts as a journalist, interviewing survivors and members of the sect, trying to find a logic in what happened.

    The Kobe earthquake is handled differently: it is a collection of short stories, mainly of people marginally touched by the earthquake, and how it affected their lives. You can find fictional stories, where the earthquake is caused by a huge worm living underground, to more personal, intimate stories.

    Anyway, Murakami is an excellent writer, you should read at least one of his books.

  • Short story online (Score:5, Informative)

    by Herman Thrust (305558) on Tuesday July 09, 2002 @12:40PM (#3850202) Homepage
    If anyone wants a sample, there's a Murakami short story over at the New Yorker [newyorker.com].
  • I don't know where he got the impression that Japan is sexless. All you have to do is look at some hentai. Some of it is tame, some of it is pretty...odd, but it is definitely no sexless.

    Hentai and anime aside, you could read James Clavell's Sho-gun. Granted, it is written by a westerner, but it is still entertaining and portrays the lives of the ancient Japanese aristocracy.

    barista
    • Ah... but what does he mean by sexless?

      Obviously the japanese have sex. There are erotic and pornagraphic works of all kinds. And throughout Japanese history and culture it has been treated with considerably more candor than in most of the western world. But perhaps that's not what he was talking about. I think one could make a pretty good case that romance plays a rather small role in Japanese culture, and that compared to western style romance is so faint as to be almost irrelevant. Or perhaps he was talking about something else entirely.

  • In college, I decided to use those two years of required foreign language and read a few books. My two favorites were Le Petit Prince and L'étranger. What other non-English classics should I take a look at? Be it that Slashdot is an international crowd, I'm sure that there are a few good suggestions out there.
    • If you know french, nothing can beat Victor Hugo. The Hunchback of Notre Dame, for instance, while painful to read, is very enjoyable in the origonal language. Also, if you don't mind foreign films, Au Revoir, Les Enfants is a very good film about a boy growing up in a catholic school in France during the nazi occupation
    • Marguerite Duras is one of my favorite authors, but maybe you should check out this film she wrote before investing the time in reading her books. The film's called "Hiroshima, Mon Amour," and captures her writing style very well. and my favorite book by her is "Destroy, She Said" (don't know the French title, sorry). What I like about her's that she economically, poetically manages to capture intense emotions in a way that's decidedly non-cliche. "Destroy, She Said" is written at like a 3rd-grade French level yet manages to raise goosebumps. Most of her protagonists are insane, or have been.
      Also, Georges Battaille is one of the most radical, subversive writers I can imagine. "The Story of the Eye" and "Blue of Noon" are both wickedly politically transgressive while being hilarious *and* making my cock hard at the same time. (I know, it's a weird criteria for judging literature, but it's what I like)
    • Murakami and many many other "postmodern" authors owe a debt to magic realism [wcupa.edu], which in terms of literature was originally used to describe Latin-American writers such as Borges and García Márquez. So you might do well to start out with Borges' "La Biblioteca Total" or García Márquez's "Cien Años de Soledad"

      A friend of mine swears by the Egyptian writer Naguib Mahfouz, though I certainly couldn't tell you how he reads in the original Arabic.

      Also, although he writes in English, I'd urge you to consider the great Anglo-Japanese writer Kazuo Ishiguro. Japanese and English people are both known to outsiders for their senses of reserve and decorum, and Ishiguro taps into that beautifully in his "The Remains of the Day." But if you are looking for something more overtly allegorical, you will do no better than the quietly bizarre novel "The Unconsoled" certainly one of the best books I've ever read.
  • I made a vow to myself to achieve a level of literacy in Japanese to at least be able to read my favorite Murakami novels. That was in 1995 when I was 17...

    Only now can I honestly say I've attained that goal, after having finally passed the JLPT Level 1 (the much-feared "ikkyuu") and reading "Hituji wo meguru bouken" right-to-left twice.

    Murakami's prose is abstract and intense, even in translation. However, in my estimation it is well worth giving his works a shot in the original Japanese, if you're up to the challenge. If you can honestly say you've read his novels, then you're well-prepared to use Japanese in most any professional situation.
  • It's been a while but 'Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World', aside from having an amazing title, is also a great book. A Review [haverford.edu] and a bookstore [amazon.com].

    I never realized there were any Japanese cyberpunk authors until I read it. Most cyberpunk seems to be a glossy update to good old fashioned Orientalism. Anyway, the guy is a great author.

  • i've read most of his books in translation. i enjoy his treatment of duality as a main theme. this is most explicitly done in 'hard-boiled wonderland and the end of the world', which is also my favorite of his books. close behind is 'the wind-up bird chronicles'.

    it's the duality that intrigues me. not just duality, but the dark, shadowly nether-realm of duality. almost like a dream. the two halves of 'hard-boiled wonderland' are twisted about each other with the perfection of a double helix in repose.

    and the solitary narrator--always solitary--who almost slips through life with a calm and tranquility only possible in dreams. chotto... hen desu ne.. but in a good way.

    my only regret is never making it to the dunkin' donuts in sapporo.

  • his two worst books!

    Give 'The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles' a read, if you want a really great book. It's dense, filled with interesting characters, and it's full of those fun moments where you just kind of sit back, shake your head, and go 'what the fuck... ?'

    It really is a great read.

    His more recent books (Norwegian Wood and Sputnik Sweetheart) are also -incredibly- well written. These two, and Wind-up Bird, are 3 of my top 5 favorite books. These two are both a lot more *real* than his other works (not nearly as crazy as 'HardBoiled Wonderland at the End of the World'), and it's really easy to identify with the characters.

    Obviously, I'm no book reviewer, but.. if Murakami interests you, the three books to check out (imo) are 'Norwegian Wood,' 'Sputnik Sweetheart,' and 'Wind-Up Bird Chronicles.'
    • Uh...

      Norwegian Wood was Murakami's *first* major book, not a more recent one.
    • Oh jesus. Norwegian Wood and Sputnik Sweetheart are his two worst books that have been translated. They are mirror images of each other, the latter being simply a more up to date treatment.

      Wind-up Bird Chronicle and South of the Border, West of the Sun are much better quality, IMHO.
  • by lingqi (577227)
    This is late twentieth- century post-modern Japan.

    [rant]

    post-modern?

    what is that? 99.5% of the time when people uses the phrase "post-modern", they have no clue what they are talking about, which is really annoying because it will ruin a perfectly good review like this. let us analyze this a bit in detail:

    linguistically speaking, post-modern is oxymoron. modern: Of or relating to recent times or the present. post modern would refer to the future, hence making absolutely no sense if you are talking about a "current-era".

    in the arts, we have "post-modernism", which would make a *little* more sense. misnomer aside, it refers to the succession of "modernism," however -- we are sure as heck not talking about avant-garde arts. and as far as i know Japan's art culture has never really had a significant "post-modernism" era.

    so... geez people. stop using that phrase!

    [/rant]

    and oh yeah, japan is nothing like you see on animes; "japan has no homeless people" is a flat lie. and the place looks, in general, much more run-down than you would imagine. Still better than Miami, though.

  • I'm glad to hear of this author and will check his work out, but how can you append "with a sense of humor" to "a Japanese version of PKD"? Humor was a huge component of PKD's writing style. Ever read Ubik or the Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch?
  • Funny how Haruki Murakami is mentioned on /. of all places. I would have never considered him to be a sci fi author.

    Recently, I have read two stories by Murakami--"Super-Frog Saves Tokyo" which was translated and published in last month's issue of GQ, and "Airplane" which was translated and published in last week's New Yorker. Airplane was definitely not a science fiction book, but I could see some would consider Super Frog to be a sci fi short story. I would consider it a modern fantasy though.

    Whereas Phillip K. Dick usually would tell us wary stories as to how we should be careful with our use of tech, Murakami is more about telling us how we should be considerate to others. In "Airplane", it is about how a man who has weird "moments"(can't think of a better word right now) and his woman, and in Super Frog, it is about a man who is considered brave not because of brute strength, but the selfless determination of an ordinary man to help others.

    I definitely recommend "Super Frog Saves Tokyo" to everyone who is interested in Haruki Murakami. It was only a few pages long, but in light of Sept. 11, I'd say Super Frog is an interesting and fantastic read. =)
  • Underground (Score:3, Insightful)

    by sakusha (441986) on Tuesday July 09, 2002 @02:14PM (#3851045)
    That was a pretty poor review, if all you can say about Murakami is that his books weren't what you expected, they weren't full of stereotypical Japanese doing kendo. Don't you have any opinions on the content?
    The reason Murakami is compared to PKD is that he uses the most mundane of language or situations, with a slightly shifted psychological circumstance, perhaps even apocalyptic conditions. So for example, in a Dickian twist, Murakami's "TV People" describes how one day some people come to his home to deliver a TV, they're perfectly regular in every sense but one, they're only 3/4 scale people.
    I've read a lot of Murakami in the original Japanese, and it's a very interesting experience. Many writers use complex language forms but Murakami is relatively plain, it is hard to describe the subtle monotony and relentlessness of his plain language. Probably his most startling work was "Underground" which is just now available in English for the first time. It's the book where he writes the least, the book mostly transcripts of interviews with victims of the Aum Shinrikyo poison gas attack in 1995. But between the interviews is Murakami's reconstruction of the events, and essays about Japan's society and how Aum could have happened right in front of everyone's eyes.
    And here's where Murakami sort of goes off the deep end. I've read a few of M's essays lately, he has taken on the role of social critic. His essays focus on "ishiki no arikata" which is loosely translated, "the way people are supposed to think about things." He made some particularly hilarious remarks denouncing recent fashion trends like "yamamba" and "ganguro" as unJapanese and would lead to the moral corruption of the nation. He sounds like he's becoming an old fart, cranking about what's gone wrong with those darn kids today. My opinion was confirmed after I read a couple of his travel books. They're all full of gripes like "I hiked around Malta, the food was greasy and the toilets were dirty. I had to have fresh sushi sent by DHL from Tokyo once a week or I'd have nothing decent to eat."
    • I agree completely that Underground was fascinating. Having read every Murakami novel available in the UK the closest analogy to another author would be to Jane Austin. (I haven't read much PKD).

      Seriously, both authors improve with age and return to themes that fascinate them. With Austin it was the role and social acceptability, the mating of wants and desires with the perceived ideal of what is socially correct. With Murakami it is his focus on the mind, thought, and indeed exploring the idea of deciding what is socially responsible.

      One hypothesis put forward by Jay Rubin in his bio of Murakami was that while swimming against the current of the mainstream literati in Japan it was inevitable that he would eventually assume that role.


  • i really enjoyed murakami's "sputnik sweetheart" [amazon.co.uk], and "norwegian wood" [amazon.co.uk]...

    however, my favourite japanese author is actually banana yoshimoto; "kitchen" [amazon.co.uk] and "lizard" [amazon.co.uk] are both beautiful books that i would recommend without reservation to everyone. if you have not read anything by her, or are wondering whether you would like contemporary japanese literature then "lizard" would be the perfect book to test the water, as it is actually six short stories.

    finally, shusako endo's "silence" [amazon.co.uk] is well worth reading, but would never qualify as a light afternoon's read ;)

    as an aside... anyone based in london, uk, and know of a good course that teaches japanese? anything sponsored by the embassy perhaps? i've been looking to learn for some time. started teaching myself a while ago, but had too much work going on to pursue it properly. thx...
  • I've read both Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World [amazon.com] and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle [amazon.com], and will gladly attest to Murakami's talents. They were both very good books, well worth the reading. However, I should note that these are not (thankfully, to some degree) American or European books. Their denouements don't come along in the usual way or at a constant pace, and the stories themselves, much like the films Maborosi [imdb.com] and Wandafuru raifu [imdb.com] (English title: "After Life"), focus more on details and setting than moving a plot along. Not that this is a complaint; I quite enjoy such story telling.

    Having not (yet) read the books reviewed here, I can't say anything about them. But I think the name Murakami, like that of Akira Kurosawa, warrants a look-see regardless.

  • Has anyone managed to do count the coins in their pockets in a Murakami style?

    100y and 500y in the right pocket and 10y and 50y in the left. A hand in each pocket and count them simultaneously. The presumption that the right brain and left brain keep separate tabs and you can bring together the result at the end.

    Reminds me of 6800 registers...

  • When Murakami was young, he read a lot of pulp authors (Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, etc.), even translating the works into Japanese.

    My two favorites by him are Wild Sheep Chase and Pinball, 1973 (translated into English by Kodansha, but not sold in the states, maybe Bookfinder...)

    Both those books have a touch of magical realism working, but could be seen as modern takes on noir.

    It is strange, as Murakami's biggest hit in Japan was Norwegian Wood, a title that, due to culture as much as anything, really captured the imagination of Japanese men and made him a superstar--but it's hard for an outside like myself to get into quite the same way.

    Maybe the biggest secret to Murakami Haruki is the way pretty much all his characters are outsiders, loners, and the women they meet the same, coming as he does from a country, Japan, where the biggest focus is on the group.

    Definitely recommend Wild Sheep Chase, Pinball, 1973 uses the same characters and serves as a kind of prequel.
  • I've only read "Sputnik Sweetheart", but his style and the resulting atmosphere reminds me much, much more of Thomas Disch than Dick.

    Oh, and anyone who thinks Dick doesn't have a wicked sense of humor might want to go back and re-read his stuff.
  • I'm suprised Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World wasn't included in this review. It may not be Murakami's best work, but it is the most Sci-fi oriented and argualby the most closely related to Phillip Dick's writing.

    All of Murakami's novels have a certain mystical element reminicent of Dick's later books. The world created, like Dick's, lasts largely intact from novel to novel. But what makes it interesting is that Murakami's world is a much less hostile one. Although the paranoia is justified, and the femme fatal always double crosses, you get the feeling that the main character suspected it all along and went along just for the crazy ride.

  • by Frymaster (171343) on Tuesday July 09, 2002 @03:48PM (#3851831) Homepage Journal
    don't neglect the "old school" japanese lit! murakami has produced some impressive work, but it's important to look at his precursors too. reccommended.

    kobo abe - "woman in the dunes" [kirjasto.sci.fi]. existentialist tragedy that makes camus look like a comic book. avoid the movie (thankfully).

    yukio mishima - "the sailor who fell from grace with the sea" [thingsasian.com]. mishima tried to overthrow the japanese government by force of arms in the 70's and committed suicide after failing. let's see thomas pynchon do that! alarming parable of post-war reconstruction of japan. depravity, vengence, ennui... it's all here. avoid the movie.

    kenzeburo oe - nip the buds shoot the kids [geraldinesherman.com]. oe won the 1994 nobel prize for literature. this first novel is his grittiest. it's often compared to the lord of the flies but this is only because the main characters are children faced with the difficult decisions of wartime that even adults often cannot deal with. no movie.

    • Those wishing to read works similar to PKD could do considerably worse than reading Kobo Abe. "The woman in the Dunes" is probably his best and most accessible work, but "The Box Man", "The Ark Sakura", and "The Face of Another" and others whose titles I forget are worth reading if you like a slightly twisted view of reality.
  • Not his best stuff (Score:2, Interesting)

    by yoel (63192)
    I haven't read Dance, Dance, Dance, but I did read A Wild Sheep Chase. AWSC was good, but not nearly as good as The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, which was longer, deeper, and generally more involving. If you're going to read Murakami, that's the place to start.
  • These two are excellent books, but the first book I read by Murakami is still his best, in my opinion: Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World [amazon.com]

    Joe-Bob gives it five stars... Go check it out!
  • I would strongly recommend that you check out Kobo Abe. Considerably different stylistically from murakami, but perhaps one of Japan's best 20thC novelists.
  • I'd argue that Murakami has a lot more in common with Raymond Chandler than Philip Dick.

    And then, maybe Vonnegut is closer.

    In any case, Murakami feels a lot less like a methanphetamine trip than PKD, and less of a bad mushroom experience than Burroughs.
  • Besides the mentioned two, anyone interested should get into:
    Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World
    The Wind-up Bird Chronicles
    Norwegian Wood
    The Elephant Vanishes (short stories)
    Underground (non-fiction)

    There are more, but those are my favorites :-)

    And now, an anecdote: I was introduced to Murakami in an English class at UC Berkeley (haven of DWM's and ethnic literature, but largely void of anything else). The professor teaching the class approached the science fiction and fantasy genres as amusing trivialities and kept attempting to lead discussions into figuring out which of many parallel universes in the books was the "real" one. The students kept trying to introduce this wanker to the postmodernist idea that none of the universes is any more real or valid than the others. So finally, the guy pulls up Hard-Boiled Wonderland and says "do you really expect me to think this is a normal Japanese salaryman living a normal life?" At which point the Japanese exchange student raises her hand for the first time in weeks and says "well yes, of course he is. Strange things happen to him, but he's a totally normal person."

    It was enjoyable to see.
  • These books have been available in English print for quite a long time (I accidentally bought two separate editions of Wild Sheep Chase, so I'd know). The date of 1989 is inaccurate, I believe; I think WSC came out in 1982 (at least in Japan, it did). I cannot fathom why Slashdot has a review of these old Haruki Murakami books at the same time... What about Sputnik Sweetheart which just came out recently, or the non-fiction Underground, about the gas attacks in the Tokyo subway?

    Katoktok only asking.

Faith may be defined briefly as an illogical belief in the occurence of the improbable. - H. L. Mencken

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